Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Develop risk assessments leading to best practice: resource exploitation – renewable energy

European renewable energy projects are increasing and offshore wind energy is a key renewable energy resource with the wind climate of the North Sea, for example, making it particularly suitable for development. Natural and anthropogenic marine hazards, such as storm surges, climate change and developments such as offshore wind farms, create multiple potential risks which can then impact (either singly or cumulatively) on assets valued by society. As there have been no attempts to apply a model that can map out all of the hazards and risks associated with offshore wind, VECTORS has used the Bow-Tie risk assessment and risk management model and approach on the Dogger Bank case-study area as a proof-of-concept. The method describes these hazards in terms of existing policy and legislation. The Bow-Tie approach assesses the causes and consequences of change and the prevention and mitigation measures required to minimise those consequences.


This is the first marine environmental application of the Bow-Tie approach in the risk assessment and management of an increasing vector of change (offshore wind power (OWP)). The approach shows the impacts of the development on the natural ecological system and the impact of the marine environment on OWP developments.

Many environmental factors can affect offshore wind farm operation, such as storms, climate change and sea level rise, as well as factors of the operation that may affect the environment such as noise, disturbance and altering energy from the natural system. The marine pressures defined by the MSFD may indicate that OWP construction and operation adversely affects populations, habitats and species that may occur as the result of wind farm construction. However, there may also be benefits such as habitat creation on the bases and scour protection, albeit often producing a changed prior habitat1, as well as for co-locating other marine activities to ease demands on limited space23. This multifactoral approach is particularly suited to Bow-Tie analysis in defining and analysing the relationships between the hazards and risks (the central event of concern) and prevention/mitigation measures4567. Making accurate predictions of these vectors of change is a complex task and in many cases, the risks of certain consequences are too high to leave unmanaged. Therefore the Bow-Tie model allows for the inclusion of all possible scenarios, what measures are currently in place, or could be added. Specialist Bow-Tie software was used to create a diagram of the factors influencing the management of offshore wind farms on the Dogger Bank in order to visualize the hazards and associated causes/effects and to propose preventative and mitigation measures.


The Bow-Tie analysis will help managers to identify where there are particular hazards that are not effectively controlled, or where they perhaps may be being ‘over’ controlled and resources may be better allocated elsewhere. The approach advises both regulators and developers in deciding on options to achieve sustainable management.

Although highly successful for the Dogger Bank Case study, this top-level exercise informs future risk assessment. Further development will determine the overall significance or acceptability of the causes and consequences. The Bow-Tie method can be advanced as a more robust and useful tool for both scientists and managers, with modelling and scenario testing to both inform and develop the model. The Bow-Tie qualitative model displays links between causes, hazards and consequences7 to be quantified using modelling and numerical tools. This could predict how incorporating prevention and mitigation measures reduces the probabilities of certain consequences, which can then be mapped onto the Bow-Tie to give a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture of how management measures can reduce negative consequences or even prevent the central event from happening at all. Furthermore, linked/nested Bow-Ties can link to pressures from/to other users and uses of the marine system. With increasing knowledge and understanding of OWP, the contents and prominence of risk assessments will change and the Bow-Tie can be adapted quickly to accommodate these. In VECTORS this method has been applied to offshore wind farm developments on the Dogger Bank, North Sea (D60.5)7 and to fisheries in the Sinis MPA, Western Mediterranean (D60.4)6. This shows clear linkages between causes of an unwanted event, and the consequences from it. An outcome of the work has been for ICES to adopt this risk assessment and risk management approach5.


Lead Author:

Katie Smyth
University of Hull (UHULL)
Date of research: March 2014

Related articles:

Dogger Bank: stakeholder and policy-maker needs 

Changes on stocks and management in saithe fishery 

Deliberative valuation and the Dogger Bank 

Co-existence in busy seas: the primary sectors 

Modelling hotspots of change in the North Sea 

Activities influencing fisher location choice 

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.